Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus

Doctor Who - The Keys of Marinus
Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus

“The Keys of Marinus” is an adventure of the first season of the classic “Doctor Who” series aired in 1964. It’s composed of six parts, it was written by Terry Nation and directed by John Gorrie. At that time the various episodes of each adventure had individual titles, in this case:

  • The Sea of Death
  • The Velvet Web
  • The Screaming Jungle
  • The Snows of Terror
  • Sentence of Death
  • The Keys of Marinus

The story

The First Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford) land on the planet Marinus and they discover they’re on an island surrounded by a sea of acid. There they meet Arbitan, the caretaker of a machine that can remove fear and aggression from the minds of the planet’s inhabitants.

The Voord are trying to take possession of the machine to use it to their advantage and have found ways to get through the sea of acid. Arbitan activates a force field around the TARDIS to force the Doctor and his companions to go look in various places on the planet for four keys needed to activate the machine. For them it’s the beginning of a series of dangerous adventures.


This DVD contains little extras. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, a PDF file with the Radio Times Listing, a gallery of pictures from this adventure and the announcement of the DVDs to be published shortly.

There are comments in the adventure alternative audio track by protagonists William Russell and Carol Anne Ford, director John Gorrie and set designer Raymond Cusick with the moderation of “Doctor Who Magazine” former director Clayton Hickman.

The sets of Marinus. Set designer Raymond Cusick scenario speaks of the difficulties posed by this adventure. The duration is limited to nearly 10 minutes.

Cadet Sweets “Doctor Who and the Daleks”. A PDF file containing scans of the 50 cards that composed a Doctor Who mini-adventure that included Daleks and Voorde.

In 1964 “Doctor Who” was still a very young show which had quickly become popular thanks to the success of the adventure “The Daleks”, which introduced the most famous Doctor’s enemies. Terry Nation, the author of that adventure, was given the task of writing “The Keys of Marinus” and the script was prepared in just four weeks.

At that time it was normal to do things last minute so the ability to write a screenplay in a short time was essential for an author. In this case it was even more important because this adventure was produced following a change of schedule so the timing was even tighter than usual.

“The Keys of Marinus” is for better or for worse a product of its era. It’s a fanciful story as the Doctor and his companions travel to various places on the planet Marinus so each episode is almost an adventure in itself. In the end a rich and complex plot comes out of it, so mach that years later a similar concept was expandend in “The Key To Time” season with the Fourth Doctor. You can criticize the production of “Doctor Who” in the first years in may ways but you have to admit that they produced ambitious adventures.

Honestly, looking at the story there are some plot holes: again the limited production time didn’t help. The characterization of women is unfortunately rather typical of the ’60s so Susan in particular tends to be hysterical getting frightened and screaming for any reason.

On the other hand Ian can emerge in “The Keys of Marinus” because in two episodes the Doctor is absent. The explanation is that the group gets separated to make the search for the keys quicker. Actually William Hartnell went on holiday and at that time the scenes were shot in sequence so his absence was written into the adventure, leaving Ian as the lead character.

In writing the script Terry Nation was strongly influenced by production needs. The fact that each episode takes place in a different locations on the planet Marinus isn’t just a narrative convenience but also responds to production needs. The time to prepare the sets and costumes and to shoot the episodes was narrow too and “The Keys of Marinus” presented complex challenges for the production.

At first the budget of “Doctor Who” was really ridiculous as it started from just over 2,000 pounds per episode to slowly go up throughout the series. The consequence was that they used anything they found in the BBC warehouses, adjusting costumes and props designed for completely different productions.

The sets were made with any materials they could find staying within the budget and in the clip included among the extras set designer Raymond Cusick is very honest in admitting the poor quality of the results. The excellent result of the adventure restoration for the DVD allows you to see even more the limits of “The Keys of Marinus” sets.

Also because of budget problems the “Doctor Who” adventures of that time tended to be long in order to redeem the costs of sets and costumes. “The Keys of Marinus” is however an ambitious adventure as it’s set in very different places with the need to prepare more sets and costumes than normally with the consequent difficulties.

It’s up to the viewers to add that extra bit of fantasy to ignore the production flaws. Many of them succeed, even grinning when they see some unlikely situation. Even looking at the best adventures of those years you must turn a blind eye on certain flaws and a pace much slower than the new series to appreciate them. Often that’s true for the most recent classic series adventures as well.

“The Keys of Marinus” may not be a classic and the poverty in extras is penalizing for the DVD however in my opinion it’s a fine example of the “Doctor Who” adventures of the 60s so if you find the DVD at a bargain price I recommend its purchase.

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